Preparing to study for the OCS exam

Prepare for the OCS exam

Getting Started on your Journey - A Guide to Prepare to Study for the Physical Therapy OCS Exam

The OCS is still a few months away. You may even be trying to decide whether it is worth your time and money to take the exam. Once the decision is made, it’s time to get organized. However, with the amount of material available, deciding where to begin can be overwhelming. How you study for the OCS exam will determine if you achieve a passing grade.

With a comprehensive exam like the OCS, it is important to use several resources. What you use depends on your preferred learning style and experience leading up to this point. For example, if you are coming from a residency program and EIM was used extensively, you will want to mix it up and use a program like Medbridge. As someone who had been in the field for a long time, I stuck with the Medbridge program  and also used supplemental material such as Clinical Concepts and the CPG’s. More about all of this below!

Start out with the Orthopedic Specialists Certification Candidate Guide

The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties publishes its candidate guide each year, which is an important starting point. It describes the requirements to sit for the exam, the application process, information about scheduling and sitting for the exam, and general information about preparing to study for the OCS exam. The content outline and sample questions are useful for getting organized. Think of the candidate guide as your roadmap for the next several months. 

Utilize an all-encompassing OCS prep course to study

There are several prep courses on the market these days. I used the Medbridge OCS prep course as my primary study guide. I thought it did a great job organizing topics into manageable sections. It is primarily video-focused, but the slides are downloadable as references. There are sample exams to help test your knowledge. I continue to use the Medbridge platform for home exercise programs and further continuing education. (Full disclosure, I am a Medbridge affiliate, but only because I believe it is a great program.)

Evidence in Motion (EIM) also has a self-guided, comprehensive OCS prep course that renews yearly by exam cycle. While I don’t have personal experience with this platform, it has been used by many to study for the exam. 

Current Concepts of Orthopaedic PT, 4th Edition, from the Orthopedic Section of the APTA, contains monographs organized regionally, providing a thorough review of  anatomy and biomechanics. There is also the application of specific tests and measurements, musculoskeletal pathology, and effective treatment strategies. It is a great platform for those preferring to have information presented in a text-book type of format.

I used several of the monographs as supplemental material. Some monographs are available individually if you have an area you need to emphasize. You can see a full list of the independent study courses offered at the orthopedic section website. 

Medbridge OCS prep course logo
Evidence in motion OCS prep course

Know the Orthopedic Clinical Practice Guidelines

In 2006, the Academy of Orthopaedic Physical Therapy began a project to use the International Classification of Functioning and Disability (ICF) to develop evidence-based practice guidelines. The CPG’s enhance diagnosis, intervention, prognosis, and assessment of outcomes for various musculoskeletal conditions commonly managed by physical therapists.

These guidelines are beneficial as you study for the OCS. While the guidelines do not encompass all conditions, the ones available are useful. Use the CPG’s as a way to nail down outcome measures, clinical prediction rules, and test item clusters. Some of the CPG’s have been updated, so be sure you use the most current. 

Hip pain clinical practice guide Physical Therapy

Study for the OCS with Practice Exams and Quizzes

I started this website during the COVID-19 pandemic, which incidentally began the same week that I took the OCS in March of 2020. I’ve had a lot of success studying with practice exams in college and with other certification exams such as the CSCS. Medbridge and EIM include practice exams, but when I was doing my own preparation, I was looking for more. Some of the tests that I found online were out of date or I didn’t like the format. 

Considerable time and effort went into the creation of these practice exams. Practice exams and quizzes help with knowledge assessment, stamina, and focus. They have also been shown to reduce test anxiety, improve timing, and build confidence. Taking digital tests mimics the format of the OCS. Supplemental exams helped me pass the OCS in 2020 and can help you too. The included links can help you get started.

Free OCS Sample Test

OCS 50 Question Practice Tests

Review JOSPT

The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy can be a useful adjunct to your studying. While it may be tough to find the time to read it cover to cover, skimming the headlines and examining at least a few of the articles in more detail can help arm you with the most current review articles and RCT’s. 

Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy to use to study for the OCS exam

Study any other favorite resources

Since anything is fair game, use your favorite ortho book, anatomy app, or  course notes. However, it’s easy to get bogged down, so avoid going down a rabbit hole of too much material. I would advise sticking with a major review course and supplement from there. If you learn best with others, by all means, put a study group together.

In the end, know that you have prepared to the best of your ability. You’re likely juggling a job, family, and social life. Make the most out of the time you have, and you won’t be disappointed. You’re on your way to becoming Board-Certified in Orthopedics!

Anatomy app for studying for the PT OCS exam
Ortho secrets to study for the OCS exam
Carol Grgic

Carol Grgic

Carol Grgic, PT, OCS, CSCS is a Physical Therapist practicing in Milwaukee, WI. She is the creator of and enjoys blogging about Physical Therapy related topics.

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